Many of you have probably already read about Brock Turner, a former Stanford athlete who was found guilty of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman behind a dumpster. You have seen the posts expressing outrage over his light six-month jail sentence, his decision to blame "party culture" for his actions, and his father's letter arguing that "20 minutes of action" should not cause Turner to be punished for the rest of his life. If you haven't already, I highly encourage you to read the survivor's letter, found here at the bottom of the page, as it is incredibly well-written and fully expresses the tragic and ongoing mental and emotional issues rape victims may suffer after an attack.
The recent backlash surrounding the issue has sparked discussion about consent, societal privilege, and rape culture. It has led to action against Judge Aaron Persky due to his light sentence, as well as calls to use the victim's letter to educate boys about taking responsibility for their own actions instead of blaming alcohol. What worries me, however, is that this story will suffer the same fate as all hot topics that arise from the continuous news cycle. When a story is born, it initially ignites an intense response from the public, only to slowly die away sometimes days later and be replaced by the next controversial issue. Last week, it was Harambe the gorilla, and next week, it will be something else.
For the survivor, however, this event is not just a short notification lighting up her smartphone screen. As stated in her letter, the attack has placed intense physical, mental, and financial strain on her life that will not simply disappear overnight. After the world moves on, forgets the name of her rapist, loses interest in her story, she will continue to bear scars.
She is not alone. While her case has garnered special attention due to its controversial nature, RAINN estimates that on average 288,820 Americans each year are sexually assaulted or raped, and that does not include children under the age of 12. Even having one victim is one victim too many. Most of those victims will not receive national attention, but all of them are in need of justice, care, and support.
I personally see the fight against sexual assault as being a combination of two steps. The first is awareness, which has increased due to the Stanford case and is necessary in order to tackle the issue. The second, however, must arise out of awareness but will not be completed by sharing rage posts on the internet. The second step is action.
Here are some ways that you can help with the fight against sexual assault and rape:
1. Be an active bystander. Sexual assault and rape certainly happens in public places and can be prevented by the action of those around. In the case of the Stanford rape survivor, two heroic Swedish graduate students tackled her attacker while riding by, preventing her from experiencing an even worse fate. If you feel that directly confronting the attacker could make you a victim as well, call the police. College students especially should keep the phone numbers of their campus or local police forces in the favorites section of their contacts. Beware of the Bystander Effect, which is the phenomenon where people in more crowded places tend to intervene in emergency situations less. This happens because people believe that if others aren't acting, they have no obligation to help as well.
2. Contribute to organizations. Contribution can come in the form of money or time. Many great organizations exist to fight rape and sexual assault, including RAINN, which runs the National Sexual Assault Hotline. Search for your local sexual assault organization and see what volunteer opportunities they have. Many of them have their own local hotlines that you can volunteer with.
3. If you're a student, join or start a club. Sexual assault is a prevalent issue on college campuses and many universities are joining the fight through student clubs and organizations. If your university doesn't already have a club, you can make one yourself and be sponsored by a national organization such as RAINN. Some universities have offices that exist to help sexual assault victims, so make sure that you are aware of the resources and ready to refer somebody to them if necessary.
4. Tell our politicians. Whether it be at the federal, state, or local level, you have the power to affect legislation dealing with sexual assault and rape. End Rape on Campus does a good job of outlining the ways that you can contact politicians and express your support for beneficial legislation.
We fight for the Stanford rape survivor and the thousands of other victims that have suffered. Don't let their stories just be news articles.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-656-HOPE for the National Sexual Assault Hotline.